WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Your Debt Story: From zero to retirement in 12 years

Posted October 28, 2016

Budgeting worksheet


The "Your Debt Story" this week is shared by Sue, who went from having no assets 12 years ago to having her mortgage paid off and a comfortable retirement!

Here's how she did it including the specifics on how she ate for $3 per day. Could you eat on $3 a day?

Discussion topic: After you read Sue's story, please share in the comments the most frugal foods and dishes you make so you can help others who are looking for ways to eat for $3 per day.


From zero to retirement in 12 years

By: Sue

A dozen years ago, in my mid 50's, I realized I was facing retirement with no assets and was paying apartment rent and car payments, so that spring I purchased an inexpensive townhome in a decent neighborhood. After a year of making minimal mortgage payments the light dawned;  I refinanced and got serious about living frugally so I could make payments on the loan principal.

Your couponing class helped me eat on $3 a day, I made plans with friends to watch movies on tv instead of going to theaters, organized car errands to make the most of gas, cut back on new clothes and eating out. I worked every overtime hour I could at work and avoided situations where I could impulse-buy.

The planning it took to eat on $3 a day became a fun hobby... Harris Teeter's meat counter has boneless skinless chicken breasts for $2.00 a lb everyday. Last week Aldi's eggs were 68 cents a dozen. Veggies and large bags of fruit are usually cheapest at Aldi and I like their dairy, oatmeal and nuts. Wal-Mart has bread for $1 a loaf and HT has bogo Arnolds bread sales about monthly. There are always loaves of bread in my freezer. My pantry has 15 cans of Progresso soup from a HT buy 2 get 3 free sale they have had every fall.

Benjamin Franklin said in his autobiography that everyone should eat one meal of oatmeal daily to remind them to be frugal. While that did inspire me, I never could meet that goal. But a half can of corned beef hash bought on sale with 2 eggs, toast, jam and an orange from one of those Aldi's bags on sale, comes to around a dollar.

Making every dollar count, my mortgage was paid off in 8 years. Since then I have continued to be frugal, allowing me to create a 401K. Looking back, I don't know where my paychecks went before I got serious about paying on the principal of what I owed. It really helped to put effort into clipping and using coupons and your help pairing them with sales, because I could no longer be comfortable wasting dollars when I had worked so hard to save each of them !  I thought I'd work "forever" but nope, I'm retiring.


Please join me in thanking Sue for sharing her impressive success story!

Her willingness to buckle down, create a tight, but realistic budget and get her mortgage paid off in only 8 years made all the difference in her ability to retire comfortably.

I LOVE the last 2 sentences of her story: " I could no longer be comfortable wasting dollars when I had worked so hard to save each of them ! I thought I'd work "forever" but nope, I'm retiring."

And THAT is exactly why we live frugally!

If you are wondering how much time it will take for you to pay off your debt based on different payment amounts, check out these very helpful debt management calculators at

Share Your Story

Are you struggling with the burden of debt or are you living comfortably within your means debt free? Or maybe you are somewhere in the middle.

Here's a chance to share your story of debt and help others in a new weekly series we'll be running.

The purpose of the series is to learn about ways to conquer debt, one day at a time, using real life examples - your examples. If you would consider sharing your debt story, please click on the link above for Your Debt Story: A new weekly series. Each week, we'll post a new story so we can help each other get out and stay out of debt!


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  • Faye Prosser -WRAL Smart Shopper Oct 29, 2016

    Supie- Thank you!

  • Supie Oct 28, 2016

    Faye, re: vinegar, "to taste" I'm sorry to say. You don't want to add so much that you actually taste vinegar, but you want your mouth to say "well that's better" :-) I'd say in a quart, maybe start with a half teaspoon and add another half tsp if you think the stock can use it.

  • kastagg Oct 28, 2016

    Sue you are amazing.

  • RaleighFoodBlogger Oct 28, 2016

    What a wonderful and inspiring story, Sue! Thank you so much for sharing your journey :)

  • Faye Prosser -WRAL Smart Shopper Oct 28, 2016

    Supie - good tip on the vinegar. I will try it but how much would you estimate is a tiny bit?

  • karenmorris17 Oct 28, 2016

    Sue's account is very inspiring! She eats well on $3 per day. I admire her resourcefulness.

  • Supie Oct 28, 2016

    getting carried away... yesterday I boiled vegies for a garden alfredo (whole wheat pastas b2g3f at HT last wk), kept the broth which I had for lunch today with cheese on toast for lunch. maybe a 70cent meal ? It helps if you like to cook. My great grandma passed down this hint: a tiny bit of vinegar brightens up the broth (or marinara). ~Sue

  • jdouglas13 Oct 28, 2016

    Sue, what a great story. Thanks so much for sharing it. I give you a lot of credit being able to eat on $3 a day. I don't think I could do it, but it does give me encouragement to see how I could be smarter about my menus.

  • Faye Prosser -WRAL Smart Shopper Oct 28, 2016

    Supie - thank YOU for sharing your story, Sue! It really is inspirational. And thanks for the recipe. I have eggs almost every day and this looks like a tasty way to eat them.

  • Supie Oct 28, 2016

    thanks for your encouraging words, Faye ! a recipe from my frugal life: 1 cup self rising cornmeal, 2 eggs, water to suit, makes a protein rich pancake/fritter that's filling and cheap-o. If you have time to beat the whites and fold them in you get a lighter result.~Sue